Heritage Chicken Soup
Prep time: 1-2 hours
Cook time: 8- 10 hours
1 whole 4-6 lb heritage stewing chicken including the feet, gizzard, heart and neck - (if you source smaller 2-3 pound hens than you can use 2 birds)
2-4 tablespoons schmaltz (add more or less shmaltz depending on how fat your chicken is)
1 big bag of fresh or frozen vegetable scraps - such as onion skins & ends, carrot peels, celery leaves & buts, leek tops etc..
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
2-3 medium yellow onions - quartered
1 head of garlic - 1/2 peeled and the other half minced
3/4 pound carrots - roughly chopped into large pieces
3/4 pound celery - roughly chopped into large pieces
3/4 pound cauliflower - roughly chopped (optional, adds thickness to the soup)
1 1/2 pound russet potatoes -peeled and halved or quartered
3/4 pound parsnip or celery root - peeled and roughly chopped into large pieces
1 head of fresh parsley - minced
1 pinch of dried thyme
Your choice of fresh herbs, I personally enjoy thyme or dill (optional)
A few cups of fully cooked noodles or rice (optional)
salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste (optional)
Act I - Deconstruction
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We start off with a beautiful heritage chicken that is at least 12 months old. The bird pictured here is a Jersey Giant and weighed in at just over 6 lbs. She was a retired laying hen who lived a long and enjoyable life eating organic feed, grass and bugs. You can see all the edible parts of the chicken including the feet, unrendered shmaltz, liver, heart and gizzard in this picture. We will use everything except the liver in this soup.
Step 1: Rendering the Shmaltz-
It is best to slice the shmaltz thinly before cooking. I didn't do that in these photos but the process will be faster and easier if you do. You can also add one thinly sliced onion to the shmaltz before rendering, which adds a nice flavor. Cook the shmaltz , and onion if you are using that, over a medium heat. Once all the fat is liquified and only little crispy pieces, aka cracklings, are left, strain them out using a fine sieve and let the fat cool in the fridge where it will keep indefinitely. The crackling can be eaten and are especially tasty if you decided to add onions to the shmaltz.
Part the Chicken-
Rather than endure a complicated written explanation, you can watch this video on how to part a whole chicken into eight pieces. I sometimes like to cut both the wings and breasts into 4 parts instead of 2, but this extra step is optional, especially if using small birds. Also, make sure to use the neck, as it adds a lot of flavor. If still attached, it can be easily removed with a pair of poultry sheers.
Act II - Stock
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Preparation & Storage -
Before making the soup spend a few days or weeks saving veggie scraps. Collect them in a bag and store in the freezer. The stock itself can be made far in advance and frozen in ziplock bags or stored in canning jars using a pressure caner. I usually save lots of feet, many poultry carcasses and several bags of veggie scraps in order to make a large pot of stock and use it over several months. Below I will show you how to do it all from just one chicken.
Making the Stock -
Boil 4 quarts of water and add in the bag of veggie scraps, chicken carcass (back), feet and apple cider vinegar.The vinegar will help to break down all the sinew and gelatin in the feet. After the water boils again turn the heat down to low and simmer for 3-5 hours and take off heat. The broth should be slightly thick with have a translucent white color. Strain the stock and compost or discard the veggies. Separate any meat from the chicken carcass and compost or discard the bones. Place the separated meat and feet in the strained stock and place to the side.
Act III - The Meat of the Matter
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Put the shmaltz in a large pot and cook over a medium heat. Once melted add your parted chicken and brown over a medium high heat, cooking for about 5 minutes on each side. Make sure to move the chicken regularly to keep it from sticking. Once browned remove and set aside.
Place 2 quartered onions in the remaining fat and cook covered for 2-3 minutes stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, celery, carrots, cauliflower if using, potatoes, parsnip or celery root and cook covered for another 6-8 minutes stirring occasionally.
Put the browned chicken, stock and thyme into the pot and cover with water. Bring to a rolling simmer and immediately turn the heat to very low. Allow the soup to barely simmer for 8-10 hours until the meat is falling off the bone.